Posted by: M.C. | 17 February 2011

Consciousness

I’ve been occupied for the better part of the past week with a sick child, not able to keep anything down for two days. Of course, he’s recovered and moved on while I try to deal with the blow to my sense of equilibrium that his illness provided. It’s one thing to experience the fragility of my own health; but to have a front row seat on the fragility of his was more than unsettling. And if you share my somewhat morbid, somewhat perverse frame of mind, you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. I mean, someday something is going to do me in—and him in turn, and everyone that I have ever known or loved. Someday, all of us will be gone. This is an existential fact. But what do I do with that?

Well, since I’m a nerd, and a person who thinks too much, and (as the Brits would say) a bit of a nutter, I’ve been reading. The most recent suspect is a book about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of him; he was a Jesuit priest, born in 1881 and died in 1955. And being a Jesuit he insisted on being ridiculously brainy and participating in major anthropological expeditions in China and publishing major scientific works. But the Church was not so sure about him, in part because evolution was a major part of his worldview which the Church wasn’t so sure about in the 1920s, and he spent various parts of his career prohibited from publishing and accused of suspect thinking and even heresy in some quarters. Now if you know me, you can see why I would find someone like this appealing; he has the whole Catholic, writer/intellectual, traditional but not conventional thing.

I’m about 50 pages into the 120-page book (The Promise of Teilhard: The Meaning of the 20th Century in Christian Perspective by Philip Hefner, for those of you keeping score) and his ideas fascinate me. I can’t begin to cover it all now, but I’ll start with just a piece: Life, he believed, was evolving toward increasing “complexification,”: inert organic compounds combining to create life; single-celled animals and plants becoming multi-celled, generating higher life forms; humans arising, becoming conscious, and those levels of consciousness increasing to include an awareness of self, other humans, other creatures, the planet itself, and beyond.

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: blah blah blah. Here’s why it matters—maybe—and why my individual existence and the loss of that existence is something more than a private tragedy—maybe: I have the opportunity to contribute to this growth in consciousness. I have the opportunity, by becoming more reflective about myself and more aware of others, to move our understanding forward. Now, what I can do individually, personally is probably miniscule—inches in the cosmic distances measured in light years. But the accumulation of inches, with the addition of a sudden foot or two periodically, is how we got here. And heaven knows we haven’t figured out how to use our increasing consciousness not to destroy. Who am I to discount what any one of must might contribute, even if that one is as small and often confused as me? So I don’t have the time to waste lamenting my eventual physical fate. I have work to do. We all do. My son, it turns out, has the right idea. After I recover from an illness or a shock, time to start exploring again.

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